Although we were sad to leave Provence we were so excited about staying in Switzerland for a few days. On the way however we’d booked into an inexpensive little hotel right on the shore of Lake Geneva in a village called Meillerie.
Is there anywhere by this beautiful lake that isn’t amazing? The views are stunning and the scenery …breathtaking. Meillerie is on the French side of the lake just a spit away from the Swiss border. It isn’t posh like Evian and the hotel, Les Terrasses certainly wasn’t expensive. The bathroom was smaller than our double-wardrobe at home but it had everything squeezed in there so no complaints and the breakfast was very good. The room even had a little balcony looking over the lake.
We’d already booked a table at the lakeside restaurant just down the road as it had very good reviews and deservedly so. We had also stopped there just for drinks two years earlier when we were travelling from Switzerland to Provence. Le Restaurant du Port is a really busy place and is only open between May & the end of September. This is the place to get perfect fish …of course.
By luck we’d been given a table right by the side of the lake and even more exciting was the sunset that evening. I cursed that I hadn’t got my camera with me but my mobile has done a pretty good job. What I couldn’t understand was why I was the only one bobbing up and down taking pictures?!
Maybe the reason was that sunsets over the lake happen quite a lot and I guess most of the people at the restaurant were locals although definitely not all.
My man is quite understanding about me taking pictures; he’s used to it so he didn’t mind me jumping up and down to take yet another one. He knew I wouldn’t ignore a sunset as good as this and anyway the meal hadn’t arrived yet and he was tucking into the wine, so that was okay!
What a night! A fantastic meal, a superb setting and an unforgettable sunset oh and the wine was pretty good too!
I guess we’ve been visiting Provence for almost thirty years. It’s all down to the T.V. chef, Keith Floyd. He was doing a cookery demo in the pretty town of L’isle-sur-la-Sorgue chattering on as he used to do with a glass of wine in one hand whilst stirring a dish in the other. The camera panned round to show the river, one of the many waterwheels and the Provencal town houses …we were hooked. The very next year we were there and the magic has never gone. We love the town although it’s a lot busier than it was all those years ago.
For the last five years we’ve stayed at Mas de Miejour which is just outside the town of Le Thor not far from L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. The little cabin known as Le Cabanon, (small house in Provencal), feels very much like a home from home although where we live is bigger and a few centuries older! Le Cabanon is tucked away in the extensive grounds of the Mas de Miejour
Fred & Emma own the 19th century farmhouse (le Mas)and have several B & B rooms, cottages and the little cabin which is just perfect for us. It’s quiet, even the chickens don’t disturb us and we love their eggs for breakfast. The swimming pool is great and the area good for walking and cycling …very flat!
The first Sunday we were there we decided to go along to the cherry festival in Venasque. The tourist info. on the village says ‘Venasque is perched on a rocky outcrop’, well they’re right about that. We parked at the bottom of the hill having decided we didn’t need to take the bus and by the time we’d walked up to the village we were definitely in need of a beer! The cherries were of course delicious as was the local wine however once the speeches started we went to explore the village. Not surprisingly it’s rated as the 126th ‘most beautiful village in France’.
On Mondays we always go to Cavaillon. No it’s not rated beautiful but we like it because it’s not touristy. The market is very much for the locals and I know my espadrille man will be there and I always need to stock up for the year. Oh and the local butcher sells the best merguez anywhere.
I can’t remember which day we went to Monteux but as this isn’t meant to be a diary it doesn’t really matter. I was in my element in this town, particularly the old part. The website mentions all kinds of festivals including a spectacular firework display but nothing I could see that mentioned the wonderful murals everywhere, many in the ‘Trompe-l’oeil’ style. The picture on the top right for example shows arches with windows inset but it’s all painted to ‘deceive the eye’. I did of course take loads of pictures but the girl in the red dress painted high up on a building in one of the square’s was my favourite.
Arles is another of our favourite places. Built in Roman times by the great river Rhone it’s often described as the gateway to the Camargue. It’s a vibrant city famous for the Amphitheatre although there are other examples of Roman architecture which get overlooked. Never mind the Romans, there are some interesting shops here, art galleries, usually a photography exhibition or two and lots of places to eat and drink and watch the world go by. And we found a parking place near the college which was free!
Walking the back streets of Arles is just as interesting as the main thoroughfares and less crowded too!
We couldn’t stay in Provence without visiting the Luberon and especially the town of Lacoste. I think everyone must head for Bonnieux or Menerbes as Lacoste is usually pretty quiet. We always pop into the church and then walk up to Pierre Cardin’s place which is a large 11th century chateau which dominates the village. A feature of the village is the narrow streets and the old stone houses and the stunning view across to Bonnieux and Mont Ventoux. It isn’t me in the picture in the bottom right, I just liked this shot of a very French lady looking out across the valley.
I could hardly finish this Blog without mentioning lavender. The lavender season hadn’t quite started apparently but it looked stunning to me. In the background you can make out the summit of Mont Ventoux. It’s the highest mountain in the region and has gained fame due to the Tour de France cycling race. Yes it is very windy and murky at the top but on a clear day it looks very magical.
As usual we were sorry to leave Provence but we had Switzerland to travel to next …
It’s hard to beat Ayutthaya for the number and variety of temples within the old city. As I mentioned in a previous Blog you can get ‘templed-out’ but here they are very impressive, many set in extensive grounds and the city itself is a pleasure to explore. We walked a lot, took the ‘noddy’ style tuk-tuks and went on a boat trip on the river. Many tourists hire bikes but I wasn’t tempted …too much traffic around!
You can see from the pictures that these temples are centuries old . Ayutthaya was a significant city dating back to the 14th century and was once the capital of Thailand. The river runs around the centre and unfortunately serious flooding occurs. In 2011 some parts of the city was under three meters of water. It’s hard to imagine how difficult it must have been for the residents during those three months and the effect afterwards both on them and the historical buildings. Tourism was affected although they have certainly returned in large numbers as we found visiting the temples.
Ban Thai House where we stayed was a good choice. We’d booked their traditional small Thai house which is made of teak. It creaked a little and we eventually got used to the high step between our compact bedroom and the bathroom and enjoyed sitting on our balcony overlooking the lake and the grounds.
I had to be patient to get these pictures of the stone head as I didn’t want any tourists in the way!
I took this shot as we came out of a cafe opposite after having a beer. The cone-shaped oblelisk which are called Prangs had turned a golden colour by the setting sun.
We had an interesting walk to this temple – having paused to watch workers making a sweet desert called Roti Sai Mai (also known as Sweet Angel Hair) which is a speciality of Ayutthaya and we were invited inside the mini factory. They were lovely people, so welcoming and eager to explain the process. They gave us a mid-morning snack of the most delicious Roti Sai Mai which is a bit like candy floss wrapped in a pancake.
More tourists dressed up to visit the temples. It’s got to be said that not everyone looks great wearing the national costume and modern shoes with it doesn’t help …
This two-hour boat trip was very interesting including visiting a Chinese temple (top picture). The picture of the little girl by the row of Buddhas is one of my favourite shots of the holiday.
Here are girls who can wear the traditional costume. I would have loved to have taken more pictures, they were just stunning and the light was perfect.
The tuk-tuks in Ayutthaya were different to ones we’d seen before, definitely ‘noddyish’. This Buddha is HUGE! 42 metres in length with the head resting on a lotus flower, very impressive. The grounds were beautiful and for once it was very quiet. I’ve added an effect to these two pictures to give an ethereal feel.
If the hotel hadn’t told us we wouldn’t have known about this new weekend market which opened at the beginning of the year. If you go to Ayutthaya you must go here. The food is cheap, varied and delicious. A word of warning, grab a tub-tuk before the market starts to close up otherwise you’ll have to walk back to your hotel. This city shuts early!
The blessing worked! We arrived home having had a good trip back. We were sorry to leave Thailand but we’ll be back, that’s for sure.
There’s always a danger when you visit a country like Thailand that you end up getting ‘templed-out’! If you’ve visited more than three temples in a day then you’ll know what I mean. This temple though is just a shortish trip out of Kanchanaburi and it’s well worth a visit. It’s called Wat Ban Tham or The Dragonhead Temple because there’s a long staircase that leads up the hill into a dragon’s head and through its body! You then walk into a cave, up a few steep staircases and eventually you arrive at the top. And what a view! We hit the gong just for the hell of it (three times according to Buudhist tradition) as we felt we’d achieved something. Would you believe there was no one else around although someone had lit some incense sticks earlier.
Another interesting thing is that as we drove along the quiet road to the temple we noticed a huge Chinese cemetery. These large marble family graves each built into a grassy mound are like miniature mausoleums often decorated with mosaics and pictures of the deceased. We stopped and walked around for a while amazed by the opulence of it all. The design of each grave is exactly the same so when there are hundreds in one area with nothing else around it seemed a little strange …
Elephants! Several years ago we spent three wonderful days at an elephant sanctuary in Chang Mai. It was an unforgettable experience as elephants are our favourite animals. Riding on an elephant and I mean sitting on its back, not on a seat and feeling it’s lovely soft ears flapping around your ankles is just a very special experience. Contrary to what you’d think, elephants’ backs are not that strong so whenever I see tourists sat on one of those heavy wooden seats on top of an elephant it makes me shudder. I hate to think of the pain that’s causing the elephant and all for the enjoyment of the tourists.
Since that first camp in Chang Mai we’ve been to the Elephants World in Kanchanaburi three times. Each time we have had a great time although on our last visit we felt there were too many tourists in each group so it didn’t feel quite so special as before. A relatively new sanctuary has opened up also near Kanchanaburi, Elephants’ Haven and appears to offer a similar experience. The best thing we found was to check with the hotel owners; they are pretty knowledgeable about the organisations and have up to date news on them too.
After breakfast it’s off to the river to bathe.
Stand back, he’s on his way to the river.
Great fun cutting up food and then boiling it. Once it’s cooled you make them into balls and feed them to the older elephants who haven’t got quite as many teeth as they started with.
Wallowing in the mud is great fun.
Time to get into the river, grab a brush and a bowl and an elephant and have fun. They love their back being scratched!
Time for their final meal of the day before heading off in the jungle for the night.
Just before we left Kanchanaburi we visited one more temple. Wat Tham Phu Wa is known not just for being a meditation retreat but for the amazing temple which is actually a cave. The stalactites hanging down are really impressive and round each corner you’d see another statue of Buddha all carefully lit. If they’d lit the statues too much if would have taken away the ethereal feel of the cave. There was no chance here of getting in without leaving an offering (as if we would …) as once you’d taken off your sandals to walk down there were women collecting money. Compared to the Dragonhead Temple this one was much more touristy.
Now we’re on our way to our next stop in Thailand, Ayutthaya.